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tv   [untitled]  CSPAN  April 4, 2010 1:30pm-2:00pm EDT

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worthless. well, so much for his foresight. the author? tom clancy. the book? "the hunt for red october," which became the biggest moneymaker in the history of naval institute press. from their beginnings come o, te gone on to bigger and better things, proving the other wrong. bill mcclay is at the university of tennessee at chattanooga. he is the distinguishing it a visiting professor and the school of public policy at pepperdine university. he has held faculty appointments at georgetown, johns hopkins, and the university of dallas. his books include, "the master list," self and society in
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modern america," religion returns to the public square," faith in public policy in america, "and figures in the carpet, finding a human person in the american past." he is a senior fellow at the ethics and public policy center. a senior scholar at the woodrow wilson center. and senior fellow of trinity form. let's welcome bill mcclay to address sources of renewal in the 21st century. [applause] >> thank you. i was just giving them my honest opinion. i think it was william blake that said, the road of all it leads to the palace of wisdom. i am committing as many follies
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as i can. since i am the last speaker, maybe i should let you in on what we all know about chuck. you may not know the rest of the story. you probably do not know he was born in a log cabin and raised by wolves. [laughter] the wildest part of western wyoming. went on to -- well... [laughter] ken will have to come back next year for the rest of the story. -- you will have to come back next year. it has been a rough time for conservatives, for many americans, this past year or so. yet, we should remember the council of shakespeare expressed in the words of the exiled duke
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in "as you like it." "sweet are the uses of adversity, which like the toyota, ugly and venomous, wears a precious jewel in his head -- the toad." he is describing the world view he has it been forced to adopt. that is the adversity for which he is found sweet uses, benefits. there is something to be said for the sheer obvious gravity of the challenges we face as a nation. they may even be a providential gift, albeit one in toadline ke disguised. this is an idea that may sound strange.
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it reminds me of the largely forgotten historian arnold toynbee, a figure of the last century whom no one reads anymore. he argued the dynamic of challenge and response was the chief source of the civilizations greatness. he believed great civilizations of die from suicide rather than murder, which is to say, they die when they lack the will to respond confidently and creatively to the challenges that otherwise would make them stronger. challenge in response is the way of life and the way of national renewal. the challenge is so great now, as we look at our massive and unsustainable debts, our faltering economy, our fragile families, fraying moral fabric, subjects others have covered far better than i. we have no choice but to
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respond. the benefit is that the gravity of the situation requires that we not merely respond but think our way back to first principles. some think the we respond is to ratchet up the supervisory power of our cultural elite. the political class that embodies and service them. this is the view of the obama administration, with a centralized and technocratic vision of social reform. and its stress on the use of expert knowledge and the proper governance of human governments -- human affairs. this is a throwback to the central contention of the progressive movement of 100 years ago, and parallel to the welfare state apparatus described by allen carlson. there is another approach. it is the approach that ronald reagan embodied in his career.
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an approach that emphasizes the freedom, the centralism, traditional values, and so on. in many ways, the ascendancy of ronald reagan represents something distinctive about american life. it's remarkable openness to infusions of new energy and creativity from below. i.e., from the non credentialed, non-elite sectors of society. this is of crucial importance, since so much of the state of american life, and american culture and the past half century or so, has come from the failure of its deelits,es, which have saw to transform american life beyond recognition. there is always a tendency in
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all human societies for elites to become inbred and brittle. one of the great strengths of american social life has been its ability to incorporate new energies and new blood into the elite class. if there is some reason to doubt whether the intellectual meritocracy, the directorate of elite institutions that has evolved over the last 50 years, is doing that job effectively anymore. we have a problem of fundamental loyalty. openly disdainful in many cases of fundamental american values. there is a lack of confidence in the american project in the world's, and to be sure, and erosion of values in the general populace that lends support to that. and the rise of what is the
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political class, in our including public employee unions, whose members enjoy the protections of silver service -- civil services laws and live off the economy. these are concerns that. the rise of the political career of world reagan -- that spurred the rise of reagan in the 1970's. coming from a man who was uncredentialied into paid for by being constantly just a creighton. a man of obscure, midwestern origin who parlayed his odd jobs as lifeguard and radio announcer into a minor acting career and
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then into a california politician, and service as a spokesman for general electric. that is the disdain with which ronald reagan was treated and seen. one sees the same response emerging now in the tea party movement, not entirely political, but a feeling of outrage and expression of outrage specifically directed at the political class. this is an example of energy from below, of the on credentialed asserting itself, even if sometimes looking like an unguided missile. and the very name tea partiers represents an effort to claim for such energy the mantle of a kind of major american historical precedent, a revolution itself. i think that claim has some
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validity. the renewal of american life will not be administered from the top down. that is not the nation's history. nor is it firmly grounded in our national lore. instead, history indicates much of the energy must come from the bottom up. consider the history of immigration, the way in which immigrants have served constantly to renew the sense of america's promise. or consider the term, frontier. one of the most powerful, symbolic words in the entire american lexicon. a concept and a vision very important to hollywood. but one with many meanings. for americans, the frontier is a place of human striving, a verge between nature and culture, a place where the unsettled has not been disciplined into this settled, and where scope for
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fundamental human striving is open and widely available. it is also the point of encounter of man and nature, a point of contact thought to be uniquely powerful and renewing. abraham lincoln is a potent symbol of this quality in american life. and as one historian has shown, there have been many lincoln's over the years, some of them archetypes. lincoln, the savior of the union, the great emancipated, the man of the people, the self- made man. among these archetypal images, one of the chief is lincoln as frontiersmen, a common man born in a log cabin, just like our dean. [laughter] to humble circumstances.
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a man whose character was molded not by the advantages of pedigreed but by his own immense striving towards self- betterment. our knowledge of lincoln's early life is scrap heap. we know he moved from kentucky to indiana -- it isour know ledge is scrappy. farm work that he would do almost anything to avoid doing. he was a voracious reader, with a great love of words. he would hop up on a stump or chair and give a speech to his friends, who put up with him. later, the ohio river beckoned, and he rode flat boats to new
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orleans. he ended up in the town of new salem, where he are rives as a piece of floating driftwood -- where he arrives. he became a clerk. he became popular. was appointed postmaster, ran for and on the second try was elected to the state legislature. borrowed money to buy himself a suit and decided on a career in a law. he benefited from the easy-going disorder of frontier society, with a solidity and absence of confining role and regulations. he came to new salem and in a matter of weeks he could ingratiate himself to the citizens to the extent of being
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a plausible candidate for office. he did not have to be defined as his father's son only. he could begin over again and again. not everything about this is good. lincoln regretted the lack of educational opportunities in his own life. but one cannot separate the resourcefulness of his character from the fact that his origins, were there in a frontier society. there was nothing ordinary about lincoln, but his ascension to the presidency is certainly an example and was taken as such and always has been taken as such, an example of the common man pose a potential, which has been given unprecedented scope by the right set of conditions. by the way, it may interest you to know that this son of a pioneering and loose jointed antebellum america but is also
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the only american president to hold a patent. he observed in transporting it farm produce up and down rivers that sometimes boats would run into trouble on sand bars. he watched captain's order the crews to throw cargo over side, to place barrels and boxes against the side of the vote for buoyancy. this inspired his invention. air chambers made of waterproof fabric that could be inflated or deflated as necessary. he obtained a patent for this invention in 1849. a decade later, he was on a lecture tour, and he described the first english pat laws as one of the three greatest inventions in history, right up
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there with the written word, the printed word, and the discovery of america. he had a very high esteem for the idea of pegging inventions. -- patenting inventions. it added a few of interest to the fire of genius in the discovery of new things. it is a nice illustration of his resourceful blind, the stress placed on innovation, and it tells you he knew something about capitalism and about human motivation -- and his resourceful mind. allowing people to profit from innovation would spur innovation. the frontier experience of lincoln's day, by its nature placed less emphasis on pedigree. yes, it was not universal in character. it was white and male. one has to admit that.
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it was not free for all people. but we can say that the frontier tended that way. in the direction of a rough and ready equality of opportunity. it was a kind of fulfillment of this of the declaration of independence, what lincoln revered and referred to in its affirmation of the equal word of all men that and are equal -- and their equal right of all men that to the fruit of their own labors. the declaration grounded in nature and nature's god. lincoln loathed slavery. his complaints about slavery in adulthood were often that it was a form of theft, which allowed one class of men to steal from
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another the fruit of the latter's labor. the notion of distributing it justice was less important to him than the notion of a limitless human opportunity. a party that was much more in keeping with the ethos of the frontier. this frequent recurrence of the idea of frontier in american society goes beyond material explanations. it is an organizing ethos. and it has some basis in fact, too. it goes back to the very beginnings of european contact and a settlement of the western hemisphere. the idea of the west itself as a place of renewal, of beginning again, is embedded in european culture, in anticipation of america. one sees this sense of america is taking root very early on in the 19th century.
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one sees the rising concern about the possibility of might be lost -- it might be lost. the essays of ralph waldo emerson or henry david thoreau. or by the 20th-century, the novel, "the virginian," which celebrated frontier justice and spoke to the perils of over civilization. a theme that is stressed by theodore roosevelt, whose wild west sojourn was central to his experience. of course, this anxiety culminates in frederick jackson turner's famous frontier thesis of 1893, which are do two things. one that the existence of the frontier explains american development, american social,
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intellectual, cultural, material development. and second, that this era of american history was coming to a close. the frontier, according to census of 1890, was closed. what turner wondered, what would this do to american life, if the material motive, the precondition for all of these fundamental american traits disappears? it is a tremendous amount of anxiety at the turn of the century about this issue. it did not end then. john f. kennedy's campaign for president in 1960, which adopted the theme of the new frontier, was precisely meant to draw upon that turner thesis, on the turner vision of america as a
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nation meeting of frontier for its well-being, for the exercise of virtue and the cultivation of virtue. oene might consider the statehood of alaska, which occurred at the same time. alaska, a place that had tremendous symbolic meaning. still has tremendous symbolic meaning in american life. what the example of both of these places suggest is that there is a downside to the over organization of american life, to win over emphasis on specialization and company -- -- credentialism, things that set our sense of human possibility and along with that our communities and our liberty. perhaps, we have too much schooling, too much licensing, to zero little space to move
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around, to experiment, make mistakes -- too little space to move around. perhaps we have become too concerned with the right career path, the right schools, the right pedigree. there was a time, well within the memory of living americans, were your advancement in life was not dependent upon the credential of where or whether one attended college. to be sure, it did not -- one did not easily make the leap from eastern illinois state teachers college to a park avenue law firm. but other things were very different. politics, for example. one of the greatest of america's 20th-century presidents and one of the most literate and historically informed since the time of the founders was harry s. truman. he did not have a college education at all. instead, he began working for
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the santa fe railroad when he graduated from high school. imagine that. that less-organized america had many faults. i do not want to romanticize it -- romanticize those faults away. the worst of its faults was his failure to extend the opportunities truman enjoyed to all americans. that was a fault that only serves to confirm the worthiness of the ideal itself. for all its imperfections, the more loose-jointed america is more open to share human possibility then the american credit, iron cage of standardized tests and interpersonal skills we are now so proud of having constructed and imagined to be less elitist than the world it replaced. we need to reserve a less- regimented, less-status- stratified, or lose death
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jointed america. we needed economy and legal structures that are as open as possible to enterprise and innovation. a school system that is open to all and cured, not for the manufacturing of credentials, -- and geared not for the manufacturing of credentials, but it towards individuals. not what one can do, but not where he or she learned to do it. i mentioned alaska. consider for a moment the national reception of alaskas then governor sir palin. a working-class woman -- sarah palin, many different jobs, no clear career track, a bit of driftwood. a working-class husband, a woman who was like so many women of the american west are -- i'm married to one-- both untraditional and profoundly traditional at the same time.
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a combination that makes no sense in the settled east, but makes perfect sense in the concept of frontier society. people can differ widely in their estimation of governor sarah palin, of her political views, our campaigns, whether she is adequately prepared for higher office. these are legitimate points of debate. it was deeply disconcerting to me to see her mocked and pilloried for the loose-jointed and on pedigreed aspects of her own social background, notably the obscurity of the colleges she attended. this ought to have been infuriating to many americans. with a checkered and educationally scrappy background, she represented abraham lincoln's america in the reagan's america, much more than running mate, the navy aristocrat john mccain, the son
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and grandson of admirals', or the two pi the-credentialed democratic candidates, or that three presidents before the present one, bush, clinton, bush, all with yale and harvard pedigrees. when david brooks worried about the possibility of a foreign enemy might find america vulnerable if it were to strike during a harvard-yale football game, he was pointing in a proving way to a development that is not at all healthy. think again of lincoln. think of lincoln giving his great speech that all of you know, i hope my heart. the dedication of the cemetery at gettysburg in 1863. there were two major speeches that day.
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lincoln spoke, but before him, edward everett, a former president of harvard spoke. and it was a self-educated frontiers and president, abraham lincoln, and not the supreme late well-pedigreed former president of harvard and the first american to receive a ph.d., it was lincoln who gave the speech whose accents of rain down through the ages. -- ring down through the ages. by celebrating the 50th anniversary of alaskan statehood and the 200th anniversary of lincoln's birth, we were celebrating the same thing. -- the and during frontier spirit of america, which ought to be celebrated and nurtured. we are celebrating the ability of this country to give unprecedented scope to the amazing and unpredictable depths
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of human potentiality, which cannot be produced a factory like by the right schools or the right social arrangements, but he emerged from the unpredictable and often surprising potential in the hearts and minds and spirits of ordinary people who are left free to pursue their potential. the example of lincoln the frontiers men, and of the state of alaska that calls itself the last frontier on every license plate, both point towards the same they exemplify qualities of character and that are at the heart of what this country is at its best. we should want to foster and preserve this in the years ahead. this is a sentiment that ronald reagan would have agreed with, for, it was the one he fought for. thank you. [applause]
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>> would we not all agree seven hitters have hit seven ticker-tape home runs? [applause] schedule -- between now and 4:00 p.m. first, we will take one of our famous seven and it breaks -- seven minute breaks. we shall then reconvene for questions and answers and present yourself in either aisle. the two people left standing in the morning have firi


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